UK’s food watchdog believes plan to cut unhealthy food promotion to children is working

Posted by James Ferre on 26th March 2009

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said that current food advertising guidelines are beginning to have a positive impact and decided against scrapping a protein cap, which is currently used in determining what foods are advertised during children’s TV shows.

The FSA Board agreed that the Nutrient Profiling model, which dictates what products can be promoted to children without incurring the wrath of advertising regulator Ofcom, was working effectively. In particular, the protein cap, which prevents foods containing high levels of fat, salt or sugar being classed as ‘healthier’ by virtue of their protein content, should be retained.Removing the protein cap would have allowed a limited number of additional products, mainly breakfast cereals and some crisps, to be advertised on television to children, the FSA noted.

“We have been concerned for many years about the impact that an imbalance in food advertising can have on children’s diets,” Food Standards Agency Chair Deirdre Hutton, said. “We welcome the conclusion that the nutrient profiling model is fundamentally robust and is helping to tackle this imbalance. Reducing the number of TV adverts for less healthy foods to which children are exposed is an important contribution towards improving public health.”

“The Board takes the diets of children very seriously and we feel that it is not appropriate to relax the model,” she added.

The food industry was disappointed with the decision of the FSA, suggesting that their conclusions were in contrast to an Independent Review Panel. “We welcome the fact that the FSA Board spent so much time seriously debating this issue, but that makes today’s decision all the more disappointing. It raises serious questions about the Agency’s commitment to better regulation,” Melanie Leech, FDF Director General, claimed. “The decision not to remove the protein cap flies in the face of the recommendation of the Independent Review Panel, which has spent two years assessing the effectiveness of the nutrient profiling model.”

“Yet again a proposal has been introduced at the last minute, outside the process of scientific review and stakeholder consultation,” Ms Leech added. “We will be calling on the FSA to clarify when it expects to base its decisions on science, and when – and on what basis – it will think it appropriate to set the science aside.”